Guest posting: P. M. Summer on a new breed of bicycle professionals

P. M. Summer is the former bicycle coordinator of Dallas, Texas, who was removed from his job because of his conservative approach to bicycle facilities. I post the following with his permission:

There is a whole new breed of bicycle professional out there. They aren’t what we usually think of as cyclists, much less traffic engineers or transportation planners. They are most often urban planners and landscape architects, who have become virtual social engineers. They see their job as changing the way dumb old Americans live in favor of the ways enlightened Low-Country Europeans live.

The bicycle is a means to that end. In their eyes, the bicycle isn’t a vehicle (as code defines it), and never has been. It’s a shoe with wheels. Cynically, they usually add “pedestrian” to their title, while short-shifting pedestrians in favor of “pedalcyclists”.

Most of these new bicycle professionals have never used a bicycle as a regular transportation device (including the gentleman hired to replace me), believe the road (any road) is inherently unsafe for cyclists, and believe that a segregated network is the enlightened (and sole) way to dramatically change mode share.

It’s almost impossible to argue with folks like this, because the only common point of reference is the word “bicycle”, and by “bicycle”, they mean something very different than what I, or others who think like me, do.

The problems we point out about how traffic operates don’t register, because bicycles can never be “traffic” in their eyes. Traffic is always the bicycle’s enemy, and never the bicycle’s environment. People who operate bicycles are like swimmers in shark-infested waters to them. The brave and fool-hardy only need apply. “Normal” people know better, and stay on the side-path/walk/track/gutter.

Fifteen years ago I had the Texas DOT Bicycle Coordinator plead with me to quit defending placing bicycle facilities (signed bike routes) on streets with lanes less than 14 ft. wide. When I explained to him that I preferred 10 ft. lanes, I thought he was going to have a heart attack. “You can’t put cyclists in the way of cars!” he said.

There is a growing “bikes belong off the road” sentiment. Cycling Advocates are slow to support cyclists like Eli [Damon], or Reed Bates, or Fred U., [who have been harassed by police for exercising their legal right to use the road] because to defend them would be to say that it’s not unsafe to ride on the roads… and LAB, ABW, and APBP [the League of American Bicyclists, Alliance for Bicycling and Walking and the Association of Bicycle and Pedestrian Professionals] can’t afford to admit that.

Why can’t these new bicycle advocates admit that bicycles can easily operate as part of the transportation mix, instead of having to be segregated from it? To admit that makes the extravagant demands for special facilities clearly just that: extravagant demands. Andy Clarke, then of BikeFed [the Bicycle Federation of America, now the National Center for Bicycling and Walking; now Clarke is President of the League of American Bicyclists] once described the cost for a segregated bicycle facility as being “mere decimal dust” compared to the cost of automobile projects. That ‘decimal dust’ has turned into hundreds of millions of dollars in consultant and lobbyist fees, as well as “bicycle planner” salaries. Admitting that most of these facilities aren’t necessary for safe and easy bicycle transportation endangers too much money currently being poured into the new cottage industry of “Amsterdamning America”, and threatens too much personal power. Politicians, eager for popular (if unproven) quick fixes, are far more likely to endorse feel-good projects using other people’s money than they are to call for better educated and trained cyclists.

You may find more from P.M. Summer on his own blog.

One response to “Guest posting: P. M. Summer on a new breed of bicycle professionals

  1. Pingback: Daily News Roundup May 27th – Texas Bicycling «

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